Hands on: Metroid: Other M

And so once more Nintendo take Metroid, one of their most popular franchises, back to the drawing board. For those not in the know Metroid originated on the NES some 24 years ago; its hero, Samus Aran, and the intelligent 2D side-scrolling gameplay proving an instant sensation.

After numerous 2D adventures Nintendo took the brave decision to outsource Samus’s next adventure to Retro Studious and a hugely impressive, and successful, 3D take on the franchise was born – Metroid Prime. Now, after a trilogy of first-person shooters courtesy of Retro, Nintendo have placed Metroid in the hands of Team Ninja, a developer more famous for producing the Ninja Gaiden series of sword-slashing action games.

Storywise, the demo begins just after Super Metroid finished. Samus has just defeated ‘Mother Brain’ Super Metroid’s monstrous villain and heads back to base for some rest and recuperation. Successfully treated she heads back out into space and soon chances upon a distress call which leads her to a space station and some old friends from the armed forces. After some initial needling they glumly accept they need her help and the adventure begins, although in traditional Metroid style Samus is denied full-access to her full repertoire of attacks from the get-go, missile attacks for example only becoming available once the commander has allowed their use.

Every facet of Other M screams Team Ninja, from the perspective – a blend of 2D and 3D – to the feel of the combat and even the lush FMV cutscenes. Sure, handling Samus feels a little alien at first, not least because it’s a gun she’s wielding rather than a sword, but soon you’ll be jumping about and dealing death like a pro. In fact in the demo we played combat was almost too easy thanks to the overly-efficient auto-targeting, though hopefully larger enemies will prove more of a challenge than those in the game’s early stages for those demanding a challenge.

It’s in the control of Samus where we see the biggest innovation and in turn potential for failure. Controlled by the Wiimote alone she’s free only to move along set paths, though this linearity is great for showing off Samus’s moves – and Other M is most definitely a looker – the limitation of movement decreases Samus’s scope for exploration. It seems Team Ninja will have to create some innovative puzzles and environments in order to command the player’s attention. The other noteworthy control mechanism is the first-person view, triggered by pointing the Wiimote at the screen. It’s through this view that Samus can discover hidden items, interact with objects and launch missiles, albeit while stationary. For example, an early boss encounter sees our hero targeting an enemy’s weak spot from first-person before quickly switching back to 2D to avoid retaliatory strikes.

We’re excited to see how Other M develops and with a release still some months away there is still plenty of time to expand on the first-person implementation and other issues. Hopefully when the full game lands there will plenty of metroid-shaped surprises in store, for now check out the latest Metroid: Other M video: